‘I want to talk to you about my choir please.’

We were midway through a fantastic second day of walking and we had reached Great Bavington.

Nicola from the community had hosted us in the church and offered us water and flapjack in the oldest Presbyterian chapel in Northumberland. In return we had found a sleeping bat in the kitchen and rescued it from it’s hiding place between the spare alter candles. There was a very friendly donkey who seemed interested in the group of walkers that had just appeared from the field next door.

Feeling like I should really do some work, I climbed the steps of the chapel.

‘We should get on our way. But on this next stage I’d love to talk about what you want to see from culture now. Come and find me if you would like to chat.'

Silence…

Ruth from Newcastle came to find me on the trail not long after:

‘I want to talk about my choir.’

‘We haven’t been able to meet for 18 months and I have really missed it. We tried zoom and it didn’t really work. And I have really missed the health benefits of singing and socialising together’

‘It’s been frustrating that other events have been able to go ahead, that seem more risky, such as football or indoor concerts. There are only fifteen or so of us, but it is really important to me and my wellbeing. It’s how I engage with culture on a regular basis.’

I asked Ruth whether a musical element feels important in the art she likes to consume.

I really like musicals, I am going to see Hamilton with my family soon. I am very excited. I wanted to go and see Six at the Theatre Royal, but I was unsure about how the social distancing will work. I will go and see it when it comes back.’

I ask if what she will see has changed as a result of the pandemic.

‘I think I will only go and see something now if I really like it. I need to really want to see something to commit to going back in a theatre at the moment. But I will go’.

….

Saturday also gave me the chance to chat to Cinzia, my predecessor at November Club. As the sun came we talked about where we thought the industry is now (interspersed with a break in conversation to assess whether a large cow was actually an angry bull).

‘I think there is a sudden interest in the type of work that we make. For a long time I felt that site specific work and work in the heritage sector was looked down upon, especially when I started November Club. I remember a chat about my work with an industry stakeholder who just wasn’t interested as soon as they found out I made work in unusual spaces. I think the pandemic has changed that.’

I remark that I know a number of organisations who for the first time have been forced to take work outside of their building. For the first time we see these institutions working outdoors, and in the street.

‘Exactly, suddenly the type of work that we make is seen as relevant and vital to getting the sector back on it’s feet. I think we are going to see more people want to know how you make work in unusual and different ways.’

I am struck by how Cinzia, to her credit, seems pleased by this, rather than bitter at this sudden engagement.

The conversation turns to November Club’s body of work at Wallington Hall, which lies less than 5 miles east of our walking path, and then to theatre in the heritage sector in general.

‘It will be interesting to see how heritage organisations respond to commissioning as they come out of the pandemic. They have taken a battering and their revenue has dropped. They have lost volunteers and income. It will be hard for them to commission work in the way they did.’

….

We arrive into beautiful Kirkwhelpington to another fine reception of tea, coffee and more flapjack. Everyone seems to have a spring in their step. A fine days walking with even finer company.

.....

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two women sit by memorial stone group of walkers backs to camera walking on a roadgroup of walkers lined up for a photograph on a filedVolunteer stands over fence with Northumberland fields in the background